Autumnal leaves are falling and the mornings greet us with a bracing chill. Winter is coming. For many high-net-worth individuals, homes in wintry climates can present extraordinary financial risks, from burst pipes in kitchens to ice damming at roof edges.
If your clients are retreating to their winter home (and thereby leaving their primary residence vacant or partly unattended), or if they are remaining in a cold climate during the winter months, a snowstorm or extremely frigid temperatures can create mayhem for homes unprepared for Mother Nature’s whims.
While the breadth of risks in frigid weather is remarkable, so are the many technologies that have been created in recent years to discern a lurking disaster. I recently spoke with Jeff Cline, principal at BCU Risk Advisors, for his winter risk perspective. BCU focuses exclusively on the risk management and insurance needs of affluent individuals and families.
“The biggest issue I’ve seen with winterization is the need to prevent the intrusion of water into the home,” said Cline. “There are just so many ways that water can infiltrate the home, specific to winter conditions. When this occurs, the destruction can be substantial, from ruined interiors and damaged fine art to mold.”
One way water enters the home is through ice damming. Ice dams form when there is snow on the roof and the roof’s temperature is above freezing, but the outside temperature is below freezing. When the warm roof causes the snow to melt, the water runs down the edge of the roof and freezes, leading to a buildup, or dam, of ice and water. The water then backs up behind this dam, gradually leaking into the home.
To mitigate this risk, homeowners and caretakers should ensure that gutters are cleaned. Another option is to have heat tape or cable professionally installed along the gutter line. These hot wires also reduce the chance that metal roofs will tear or bend under the weight of heavy snow.
Weatherizing When Clients Are Away
HNW clients with winter homes should consider hiring a caretaker when blizzard conditions arise to ensure that snow accumulations on the roof, decks and elsewhere are removed quickly. The sheer weight of too much snow on the roof can buckle the structure. Most roofs can handle 20 pounds per square foot of snow, roughly four feet in depth. Two feet of old snow followed by two feet of new snow can weigh as much as 60 pounds per square foot.
If no one is at home to attend to this responsibility, it’s advisable for owners to retain the services of a snow removal company. “The provider can also ensure that all markers leading to the house are cleared of snow, in the dire case that firefighters or other first responders to a disaster must enter the premises and find the location,” Cline said.
Similarly, fire hydrants need to be marked with a visible flag with metal reflectors, as they can become buried under snow, he added. “And make sure all driveways and sidewalks are cleared of snow,” Cline cautioned. “It is the homeowner’s responsibility to ensure this is taken care of. If not, they may be liable for slip and fall injuries.”
For more affluent homeowners, a caretaker who lives on the premises or nearby can attend to these and other winter-related residential issues, as can a property manager. In either case, the person should check the house on a weekly basis, with a daily check recommended during bitterly cold temperature snaps.